A commemoration to recognise the 80th anniversary of the founding of 311 (Czechoslovak) Squadron was held at RAF Honington today, 29th July 2020.
The Ceremony was held in the presence of His Excellency Mr Opatrný, the Deputy Ambassador of the Czech Republic to London, and Defence Attachés from the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic to London and a contingent of personnel from the Czech Air Force were also in attendance, as were families of Czechoslovak veterans.
The Service was opened by Colonel General Staff Straka Commander of the 22 Helicopter Base, Namest, now home to the 311 (Czechoslovak) Squadron ‘Biscay’ Standard who said:
“The permanent mission of the Armed Forces of the Czech Republic is to take care of military traditions, preserve and disseminate existing veteran links. Our base is the successor of the traditions that are based on great work of predecessors, following the 311th RAF (Czechoslovak) Bomber Squadron. In 1990 the base was awarded the historic honour name ‘Biscay’ by the President of the Czech Republic Václav Havel. It represents the symbolic historical link between the 311 Bomber Squadron and our base.”
He added: “We wanted to commemorate and to pay tribute to all the brave people who brought enormous personal sacrifice fighting against evil during the Second World War as a part of RAF.”
“We are honoured to host this commemorative service in aid of the 80th anniversary of the formation of No. 311(Czechoslovak) Squadron formed here at RAF Honington on this day in 1940. During the second world war over 500 Czechoslovaks serving in Allied air forces were killed. Of these, 273 died while serving with 311 Squadron.? Today it is fitting that we mark the Squadron’s formation with a simple ceremony in our Memorial Garden to ensure that their sacrifice will always be remembered.” He added “There is added significance as we also mark the 80th anniversary year of the Battle of Britain, during which Czechoslovaks played a critical and courageous role.”
Group Captain Matt Radnall
Station Commander RAF Honington
John Polak of the Memorial Association for Free Czechoslovak Veterans is the son of Colonel Arnost Polak (rtd) and was one of the attendees at the commemoration. John’s father was a wireless operator and gunner in 311 Squadron in World War II. He considered himself ‘one of the lucky ones’ as he survived operations. The crews consisted mostly of Czechoslovak refugees, and the camaraderie was paramount, as many had left their families behind in Nazi controlled Czechoslovakia. He settled in the UK, where he successfully ran his own business. He sadly passed away at the age of 94 in 2017.
Tom Dolezal of the Free Czechoslovak Air Force Association Ltd also attended today’s commemoration and his father, Flt Lt Oldrich Dolezal was a pilot in 311 Squadron. He was responsible for sinking the Alsterufer, a German blockage runner, on 27th September 1943, and was regarded as the biggest success of 311 Squadron during World War II.
Mr Opatrný summed up the sentiment of the occasion by adding: “During the summer months of 1940, a total of 932 members of the Czechoslovak Air Force arrived in Great Britain from France and gradually 4 Czechoslovak Squadrons were formed. No. 311 Czechoslovak Bomber Squadron was established on 29th July 1940 at RAF Honington, and began its operational activities within Bomber Command on 10th September 1940. Today we commemorate 80 years since these events and more than ever we are aware of the close relations between our nations: British, Czech, and Slovak. The idea to organise today´s commemorative event originated at the 22nd Air Helicopter Base of the Czech Air Force in Námešt nad Oslavou, and immediately received huge support from the Royal Air Force and especially from RAF Honington. We are very thankful because without their help it would not be able to carry out this event. We want these deep historical relationships to remain a strong basis for further close cooperation.”
The ceremony took place at the Memorial Garden and Wreaths were also laid at the Czechoslovak War Graves in the Churchyards of Honington and East Wretham. 2,500 Czechoslovaks served in the RAF during World War II, with over half of that number serving as aircrew.
311 (Czechoslovak) Squadron will also be remembered in the Czech Republic on 1st October 2020, with a ceremony in Brno.